Ever since I watched The Hunger Games I've been in love. No, not with Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of hero Katniss Everdeen (though she was pretty cool), but rather with the idea The Hunger Games was built upon. Yesterday, I was finally able to have a part of that dream realized, and I cannot stop thinking about it. The developers of Ark: Survival Evolved rounded up a bunch of writers and YouTube personalities and threw us into our own Battle Royale (here called Survival of the Fittest), and it was incredible.
Almost two weeks ago, Studio Wildcard hosted a massive tournament on Twitch that saw dozens compete for their chance at $20,000. This week, almost two dozen of us were given a much more intimate taste of the same carnage. Though the Survival of the Fittest mode itself is rather impressive, it merely exists as a way for Studio Wildcard to showcase how pliable the modding tools of Ark: Survival Evolved really are. Consider it a source of inspiration for the modding community. Survival of the Fittest is also meant to showcase Ark's powerful Total Conversion toolkit which will allow modders to significantly alter the core game of Ark instead of the more superficial mods that have been released so far.
From what I saw, depending on how easy and intuitive these tools are to work with, Ark seems like it is on the verge of cracking its modability wide open. If Survival of the Fittest is any indication of what we can expect from the modding community, Ark will certainly have a life of its own. But for now, let us just savor the beautiful tension that is this glorious arena of carnage..
If you're like me and you've been wishing for someone to adapt The Hunger Games into a video game format, Survival of the Fittest is the most promising I've seen to date. The recreation of various elements of the Hunger Games is both thrilling and nerve wracking. Like the movie, we were divided into pairs. Each team was relegated to our own Teamspeak lobby where partners could converse without fear of being overheard. The goal: be the last man standing.
After a decent delay due to some technical hiccups, Survival of the Fittest finally started. The mode borrows heavily from the movies that undoubtedly inspired it, and, honestly, it's a good thing. Each team spawns in a circle surrounding a central cache of loot. Like the movie, you can choose to charge forward, risking battle with the other more combative players for the chance at some serious advantages, or you can flee into the jungle and play it safe.
Andro, a YouTube personality who formed the second half of my team, and I both decided to play it safe. The moment the gun went off sounding the beginning of the match, we took off towards the safety of the jungle.
If you haven't played Ark: Survival Evolved, it builds upon the survival sandbox framework popularized by games like Rust and DayZ, but adds a significant hook with the inclusion of dinosaurs that can be tamed and ridden. Ark is already a tense game but Survival of the Fittest condenses that tension and elevates in ways I hadn't experienced before. There is something magnetically absorbing about the idea that you and 17 other people are in a race to be the last one alive.
As Andro and I hit the jungle and began working frantically to level our characters up so that we could access more powerful crafting recipes, the threat felt significantly more focused. This wasn't the leisurely online pace I had experienced when I first started playing Ark, instead it was a panicked sprint to prepare ourselves for whatever dangers lay in waiting. And rest assured, Survival of the Fittest is thoroughly lethal.
I jumped when the first cannon sounded. I was too focused on rushing about chopping down trees and gathering herbs. When I looked up at the sky, I realized was the cannon fire had symbolized: Survival of the Fittest had claimed its first victim. What followed over the next few minutes were a series of distant thuds as more cannons fired to signify more deaths. Like the Hunger Games, a massive dome that surrounds the island, slowly constricting as time goes on to push people inward, also displays a graphic showing us the person who died and what team they belonged to. Though a part of me sympathized with the loss that these players inevitably felt, I was also overwhelmingly relieved. Less players means less threats.
"At least we weren't the first to die," Andro said. He was right, the pressure of not being the first was now gone.
"Now we can die with dignity," I added. We both laughed and got back to work.
In Survival of the Fittest, the threats to your life extend far beyond the dinosaurs and other players on the island. Though we did have a brief moment of panic when Andro was attacked by a raptor and we were separated, it was ultimately the timed events that proved to be my undoing. In this match, every half hour triggered a randomized event that could significantly alter the flow of the game. During the Twitch stream weeks earlier, these events had been chosen according to votes from the audience.
As the sun set over the island, leaving us finally in the safety of total darkness, the first event triggered. In an instant, lances of light extending from the sky illuminated everyone's last position on the map. Suddenly, our hiding spot in the forest was bathed in a golden hue and we had no choice but to flee from any would-be hunters. Before we abandoned our camp to head further inland, I ran to the nearby ridge to see if anyone was close to us. My heart sank when I spied six other beams of light—two of them not more than forty feet away.
Further into the jungle, Andro and I began to refocus on our task of gathering materials and preparing ourselves for inevitable conflict. But before we could even register what is happening, a crippling cold settled on the island—the next event. Our temperatures plummeted rapidly as I scrambled to build a firepit and get it burning—but it wasn't enough. Even huddling close to the flames, we were simply too ill equipped to survive a chill this brutal. Together we watched as our health bars slowly declined, cursing the cruel developers and begging them to relent. As I reached my last three hit points, the cold finally subsided, but it was too late for me. I was unable to move. Andro scrambled to get some berries from his pack for me to eat—anything to stem the slow descent of my health. It was in vain. A moment later, I died.
As I leave Andro with some parting words of encouragement, I realized he won't need them. During our frantic fight to survive the cold, neither of us noticed the supply drop that had landed just behind us. A pang of jealousy needled my stomach as I watched from the spectator camera while Andro finds a new suit of armor and some goodies to help give him an edge. He began to tame a dilophosaurus—the one with the terrifying crest from Jurassic Park. He's going to need it.
Ark: Survival Evolved is already blowing up among enthusiasts of online survival games. But after playing this small slice of Survival of the Fittest, I can tell that, for Studio Wildcard, this is only the beginning. Needless to say, I walked away yesterday grinning like an idiot. Though my death was rather anti-climactic, I finally had that taste of the tension captured in the Hunger Games. Hopefully, as Studio Wildcard assures me, these tools will be released within the coming weeks so that Ark: Survival Evolved fans can too.