Fight for Life in Studio Wildcard’s ARK: Survival Evolved

You’re alone, stranded, and starving on a strange island infested with dinosaurs that want to make you their next meal. It’s up to you to hunt, gather, craft, build, and do whatever you can to survive this harsh wilderness. Welcome to Ark: Survival Evolved, a hardcore multiplayer first-person survival role-playing game, coming to Xbox One later this year. We caught up with Jesse Rapczak, co-founder and co-creative director at developer Studio Wildcard, to talk about what it really takes to survive in Ark.

Xbox Wire: You’re playing as a human, but you can interact with dinosaurs in an amazing way. Can you talk about the taming and riding of prehistoric beasts?

Jesse Rapczak: So, taming and riding the dinosaurs in Ark is a mix of patience, strength, and a little bit of stealth or preparation, take your pick between those two! Find a target, knock it unconscious, feed it food that it likes until it’s tamed. It’s a very simple task on the surface, but when you add in that other predators might approach and kill your unconscious prey, other players may catch you while you’re trying to tame it, it could die or starve, or you could simply not have enough resources to tame it before it wakes. All of these things complicate and increase the amount of preparation – or stealth – you might need to catch a dinosaur.

Once you have one, though, you feel like the king of the world. Not only do you have access to any of the dinosaur’s abilities (such as flight, fast underwater movement, or the ability to harvest resources much quicker than a player on foot with primitive tools), but you’ve got the bulk and stats of that dinosaur to work with, such as its speed, health, damage, etc. Dinosaurs can be used as beasts of burden – carrying items, structure components, food, and so on. The larger ones, like the brontosaurus, can clear huge areas of trees and plants, harvesting whole sections of forests in a few minutes, where it could have taken a player 10 times as long. Likewise, you can issue all sorts of offensive and defensive commands to them, leaving a pack of raptors to defend your home, or ordering a band of Triceratops to go charging through your enemy’s base, covered in C4. I think you know what happens next!

Xbox Wire: You can build structures, which sounds really cool. How does that work?

Jesse Rapczak: As you progress and gain levels in Ark, you get access to a number of structure components you can create – floors, ceilings, doors, windows, those kinds of things. You craft them, they become items, and then you can place those items in the world. Everything is linked by a simple “snap” system that links building components together. It’s all pretty simple, again, on the surface… but when you dig down, it gets very complex. Pillars and foundations function as legitimate foundational points, so if they’re destroyed, and the overall structural integrity of your building is compromised, the whole thing will collapse. We have huge gates for creating dinosaur pens, fence foundations which let you build walls pretty freely in the world, there’s a lot to discover by exploring the system. Structures additionally have resistances to certain types of attacks; wooden walls aren’t going to be destroyed by fists or rocks, and likewise, metal walls are impervious to just about anything you throw at them, outside of explosives.

We’ve got no real cap on the size of your structures, though. You can build a tower 1,000 stories high if you want, or take over an entire mountaintop, or cover the entire island’s beach with the biggest wall ever dreamed of. As long as you have the logistics and resources and patience to do so, and other players don’t stop you, be our guest. We want building bases to be fun, and maybe just a little bit silly. People’s creativity is going to go so far beyond what we imagine for the building system, and we’re looking forward to seeing what kind of clever ideas we can further support.

Xbox Wire: Survival is everything in Ark, but how important is the foraging and resource management aspect of it?

Jesse Rapczak: We wanted this element of the game to grow as your needs grow; I think that’s the goal of any survival game. You start off foraging berries and simple food – raw meat from small creatures – doing what you can to survive. But as you progress, your personal needs for food begin to be easily met. Once you’ve established a small base and have a fire and some weapons, as an individual, it’s going to be relatively easy to survive. Survive being the key word here. If you want to really progress, your need for resources is going to grow. Taming and feeding dinosaurs is very resource-intensive, so if you want to keep your creatures happy, your need for food, space, and water goes up a lot. If you want to start a tribe, the need for food, space, water, and natural resources grows. If you want to explore deeper into the more severe parts of the island, your need for food, reliable water, weapons, and healing items grows. The “top” of the game, so to speak, is very high. Each step toward the “top” increases your needs, and your ability to meet those needs. Prime meats, powerful soups, deadly weapons, and taming the strongest of dinosaurs is just the beginning. Ark has many secrets for you to find.

So to answer your question, it’s very, very important, but we’re trying to make sure that the slope of gameplay is such that you grow into simplified management of the “essentials” like basic food and water. Those would get tedious and interrupt gameplay at a certain point, but progression is always forward, and so finding endgame resources becomes your goal in the endgame, not worrying about whether you have clean water (although water can become a problem if your water sources are sabotaged, so don’t think you’re ever really, truly safe).

Xbox Wire: Would you say that dinosaurs and animals are the biggest threats to survival, or does that honor go to the other humans on the island?

Jesse Rapczak: It’s great, because in Ark, the answer to this gets to be “both.” Players start a threat, and by their inherent nature they continue to be a threat, no matter where you are in the game. Not just physically, but, say, having someone join your tribe and sabotage your base, or loot you and walk away is a real threat up until the very end. Dinosaurs and other creatures represent a larger physical threat, as there will be no subterfuge from a dinosaur. But especially early, and even once you’re decked out in a lot of equipment, a T-Rex is going to be a challenge in one-versus-one combat. When these two elements combine forces, though, is when the real trouble starts. A player on the back of a Trike or a Stego is far more of a threat than either could be in isolation.

So really, they pose different kinds of threats, even if there’s overlap. A single human is only ever going to be as powerful as a single human, laden with heavy armor and crazy weaponry. Dinosaurs in the wild are far more plentiful and far more willing to ambush you… and unless you’re well-prepared, they can take you off-guard and be your end.

Xbox Wire: This genre of survival games has been growing an audience on Steam. What sets Ark apart from those?

Jesse Rapczak: One of the biggest weaknesses of survival games currently, we feel, is that there are no real tangible goals to strive for. There are a lot of interesting frameworks for people to survive inside of, and that’s a great experience to have. But for us, there was far more strength and a far more compelling game to be made in a world where there is an endgame, and there are objectives to strive towards and challenges to overcome that aren’t self-imposed, or limited only to other players. We really want to provide a depth and scope that allows for the world to not just be a means to an end – i.e. survival – but also a place to explore, with mysteries to unravel. We want the island to be filled with adventures and special moments that don’t only rely on player interaction. You will know when you’ve found something important in Ark, and while its use or function might not be immediately apparent, it will be discovered… and eventually lead down some really amazing paths.

Xbox Wire: Can you play as a paranoid hermit in Ark and still be successful, or will you have to work with others for the greater good?

Jesse Rapczak: A paranoid hermit might have a hard time being “successful.” I say that because it’s hard to reach for the endgame without interacting with some players at some point. That doesn’t mean your interaction needs to be friendly or cooperative, though; it’ll definitely be easier if you cooperate, but a rogue skilled in subterfuge is going to have a great time. Or, say, an old crock who’s off his rocker, and decides that the perfect time to attack a raiding party is with a rocket launcher just after they take down a boss. All the spoils of that boss will be theirs, including some extremely rare items that can only be obtained from bosses. In some ways, that’s more “successful” than anything!

In reality, it’s quite possible for a hermit to come across a lot of things in the game that are extremely valuable – a high-level blueprint, or a dinosaur who was tamed at a high level with crazy-good stats, that stuff is incredibly valuable. And even a hermit can obtain these without help from anyone at all, if they’re clever and patient and well-prepared. And trading out your extremely well-trained T-Rex to a warring tribe that needs some firepower for safe access to their lands, a huge cache of items, or otherwise, is just as legitimate a way to play the game as any!