In a world where dinosaurs roam the earth, the biggest threats players will face might not be fearsome creatures like a T-Rex, but rather the cruel hearts of other hunters.
Such is the case in The Stomping Land, a multiplayer dinosaur-hunting game where players have to use their wits to try to stay alive and stave off starvation. You have a whole lot of abilities at your disposal to accomplish that. You can form tribes. You can build traps. You can salvage and craft items. You can camouflage. You can set up camp. You can track prey. You can tame and mount dinosaurs. And, obviously, you can hunt -- that's where things get tricky. Other players are likely to fight you for the same resources, especially when you consider that storing meat, a tactic that ensures you'll be properly fed, means that there are fewer huntable dinosaurs on the map. Meaning that staying alive in this game can actively become a problem for other players.
If this sounds like it would create the same sorts of messy tensions that games like DayZ feature, you're not off track. The developers at SuperCrit -- which is composed of Alex 'Jig' Fundora, Lee Fisk, and Nick 'KCIN' Pettit -- even name DayZ as an influence.
"Jig and Nick were playing [DayZ] one night when Jig said, 'I could do this,' Fisk explained to me. "[Jig] logged off and 4 months later the Kickstarter happened."
The Kickstarter was easily funded -- the game looked good. Ambitious, but good. The fact that the team was able to put together something so impressive in just four months might not be surprising when you consider that, collectively, they have worked on titles such as Skyrim and Dungeon Defenders.
Though the game has a similar spirit to that of DayZ's -- where much of the draw to the game comes from interacting with other people, facing permadeath, and the collective struggle for survival -- it's not the only influence.
"Jurassic Park. I think Nick watches that movie once a week," Fisk said, when asked about influences in the game. "I've never heard anyone quote a movie line for line so perfectly. The idea of running around on an island of dinosaurs is something that movie cemented into the imaginations of everyone that grew up in the 90s. We often joke about how cool it'd be if Jeff Goldblum could be involved with the project somehow."
Other influences shine through, too -- like Apocolyptico. This is especially true when it comes to the jungles and hunter stylings in the game.
Together, these form a game that looks fascinating. Let's talk specifics.
The game will include 15 different dinosaurs, a mix mostly from different stages of the Cretaceous period, with at least a couple dinos from the Triassic and Permian period. Aside from the T-Rex, the developers are hoping their selection of dinosaurs isn't the "stock" kind of dinosaurs you expect to see in media:
While most of these dinosaurs can easily kill a player, players can't always retaliate. Heck, players won't be able to kill most of the dinosaurs they come across. And the dinosaurs that they can manage to kill won't always provide enough food, anyway. Those dinosaurs do provide enough food are larger -- and therefore more dangerous. For the bigger dinos, players might want to scavange the remains of dinosaur dinosaur battles -- because yes, the dinosaurs will fight each other, too.
Each dinosaur has different characteristics, such as diet, behaviour, how social it is, how fast it moves, how good or bad its vision is, how much time it takes to tame it, and how 'mountable' it is. Granted, these characteristics won't always be what you'd call 'realistic,' even if the dinosaur models themselves are. For example:
"There's a balance with game design, especially a game like this, with balancing realism with fun," Fisk said. "For instance, there was a discussion on our forums about the Austroraptor and if they would have hunted in packs. It seems unlikely that they would have hunted in packs -- based on the sources provided in that thread -- but we think it'd make for more interesting game play if they did hunt in packs."
In order to find dinosaurs, players will have to track them across Wayneth Island. The island is huge and home to a variety of different locales, all of which are under a continuous day/night cycle and all of which experience both rain and fog cycles.. Rain can wash footprints away, as well as any paint that hunters slather on their bodies. Fog, obviously, hinders vision. As for the island itself? It depends on what areas we're talking about. We know there will be ocean areas -- where you can spearfish -- as well as forests, streams, mountains, plains, fields and hills.
The center of the island is rich with vegetation, meaning that herbivores will flock there. This, in turn, pulls both players and carnivores deep into the map in search for food. The island will also have a large river cutting through it, which allows players to traverse the map through water as well. You'll also be able to mount flying dinosaurs, as well as construct wing-suits which allow you to glide across the map. And since this is a dinosaur game, perhaps it won't be surprising to hear that the map features an impact crater where food is scarce. That's also where rarer dinosaurs like to roam, because of course they roam in a more hazardous part of the map.
And, curiously, there will also be a smaller island within range of Wayneth Island -- it's called Todds Island. This smaller island is home to rare materials, and the entire thing can be guarded by a single tribe. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people fought over this location, and thinking about the dynamics that can arise from a slightly secluded tribe is fun. Will players try to risk everything to make pilgrimages there? What will the culture be like for tribes that aren't around most other tribes? Will anyone even be able to take control of the island, or will it just be constant chaos in the attempt to claim it?
In any case, players will traverse Wayneth island in search of dinosaurs to eat. Doing so will require getting to know the island, sure, but it will also require a bit of astrology. The developers have included a neat navigational feature involving the stars. Most dinosaurs have their own star in the sky, which represents the location of the dinosaur. Hunters will also be able to find dino footprints, which they can follow -- and the footprints point in the direction of the dinosaur's star. Stars can also let a hunter know when dinosaurs are fighting each other, a situation that can be beneficial to players (more on how in a second). Here's where it gets interesting: you're not the only one that can see a dinosaur's star. All the other players can see the tracks and the stars, too -- and it's likely that players will meet each other while trying to hunt the same dinosaurs.
Here is a potential scenario, according to Fisk:
One scenario we expect to happen a lot is when two or more players, or groups of players, come across the same dinosaur fight; like [a] T.Rex and Ankylosaurus fight...so say the T.Rex defeats the Ankylosaurus. Now you have this felled and dying Ankylosaurus in front of you with a T.Rex still in the area. At least two opposing tribes/hunters want the Ankylosaurus either for meat or to tame, creating a sort of stand off. But if they wait too long to engage the Ankylosaurus will die. What do you do?
The answer to that question will be interesting. One thing you could try is to send a Whistling Arrow towards the opposing group, attracting the Rex's attention in their direction. Or maybe your tribe has someone draw the Rex's attention away while riding a Gallimimus, effectively committing suicide for the good of the tribe.
Players can find themselves in other curious situations, too, according to Fisk -- it all depends on what the player wants to do, and what the player thinks is cool. When I asked Fisk about what a typical life on Wayneth might be like, he described some of the things that he personally might try or see while playing, based on what he's interested in:
I think it's really cool everytime I come across a Puertasaur. Especially if he's walking into the ocean. He's kind of a "safe zone" because other dinosaurs don't want to get crushed by this huge monstrously tall creature. But you can also be crushed if you're not careful. So when you take shelter from a pack of raptors near this beast of a dinosaur and then accidentally get crushed, that's pretty cool to me. That constant feeling of danger.
And the caves! The caves are dark. Like, really dark. You'll need a torch if you hope to see anything. So you go into the cave because you want to get that special healing herb to tame a dinosaur. You try to find your way through without a torch but decide it will be faster to illuminate your surroundings. You light the torch and find the herb. As you run towards it an arrow flies out of the darkness and strikes you. A second hits you before you can drop the torch and you die. All because you wanted to see better and revealed your location.
Fascinating, right? So many different things could happen in this game.
Though players will be able to go off on their own in a single-player mode, most players might opt for alliances with other players via tribes -- especially when you consider the fact that players will be able to tie each other up, and potentially imprison each other in cages. Nevermind permadeath itself. Plus, I'm not sure I'd accept a ride on the back of a stranger's dinosaur, when I could ride the dinosaur of a person on my tribe. Or, you know, my own dinosaur.
"Each player can build a totem," Fisk said. "When you interact with the totem you can see the name of the tribe, who the tribe leader is, how many hunter and dinosaur kills they have and average expertise of the tribe. Anyone can interact with the totem and see this information. Interacting with the totem is also how you join another persons tribe."
Players will be able to interact with the world, too.
"To give you the gist of how it works you go up to your resource, say a tree, and hack at it with the hatchet. Think Minecraft," Fisk explained. "After a few hacks a piece of wood will be in your arms and you have to walk it to where you want to build something, drop the wood and return for more resources. When 2 or more resources are stacked they form a pile. When you're ready you interact with the pile and a list of things you can craft from the resources in the pile pops up. Select the one you want and it begins building/crafting where you stand. "
You can catch a glimpse of what he means in this footage, though mind that it is about a year old -- and the game now looks better than it did then, when it had only four months worth of work put into it:
Through the system shown above, players will be able to build stuff like vaulting poles, lassos, bonfires, campsites, rafts, mounting gear, camoflauge powders, wingsuits, and more. Players will also be able to use their environment as camouflage -- foliage and other items can be picked up and placed on hunters, which increases a player's stealth. Like creating a prehistoric gillie suit.
Then there are the weapons -- so far, they have unveiled three major ones: a bow, a spear, and a bolas. All of these were used by early humans, and each will serve a different purpose in the game. The bow will be able to damage small dinosaurs and hunters, and annoy larger dinosaurs. Spears are melee weapons that can easily knock out other hunters, as well as defend players against small dinosaurs. And the bolas can disable targets, and it works against small dinosaurs and hunters.
Arrows in particular look interesting...
But you're not going to want kill all the dinosaurs you come across. Sometimes, you'll use your tools to make a dinosaur useful to you, instead. If you tame a dinosaur and mount it, for example, you'll be able to battle against larger dinosaurs -- which makes it almost like a prehistoric Titanfall or something. You can also choose to heal a fallen dinosaur, which then makes you its master. In order to do this, you need expertise -- a thing that you gain more of the longer you stay alive. Specifically, you need a type of expertise called hunt -- here's how the developers describe it:
You earn "Hunt" by completing the circle of life. For example, you're hunting a Gallimimus and you kill him with your arrows. Next you salvage the carcass for meat and other resources. Upon accomplishing these tasks you earn 1 "Hunt."
Bigger dinosaurs reward more "Hunt."
"Hunt" is the means by which you are able to tame a dinosaur. For example, a Carnotaurus might require you have 30 "Hunt" before you're able to tame it.
So lets say you have the option to tame a dinosaur. You still have to consider that staying alive requires you to eat some dinosaurs -- so if you fell a powerful mount, you have to choose between keeping yourself alive in the short-term or using that dinosaur to get an even bigger reward down the road. What will you choose?
I can't imagine that staying alive long enough to procure good mounts will be easy when you consider that everyone knows you're more of a threat the longer you stay alive. It sounds like being good at the game makes you a target -- and even being at home base could potentially be dangerous. Campsites feature totem heads, which tribes use to tame dinosaurs. The more totems a tribe has, the easier it is to tame large dinosaurs -- so naturally, some players will try to steal these resources.
Still, it's all of these tensions that arise out of the fight for survival that makes The Stomping Land so damn exciting -- almost like it was crafted specifically as a response to all our daydreams about the perfect dinosaur-hunting game. Thankfully, we won't have to wait too long to experience it: currently, the developers are hoping to release The Stomping Land sometime in May 2014 for PC.