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Survival games are a subgenre of action video games that generally start the player with minimal resources in a hostile, open-world environment, and require them to collect resources, craft tools, weapons, and shelter, and survive as long as possible. Many survival games are based on randomly or procedurally-generated persistent environments, with more recent entries often playable online and multiple players on a single persistent world. Survival games are generally open-ended, with no set goals.
The first game considered to be an example of the survival game genre is UnReal World, created by Sami Maaranen in 1992 and still in active development at the present. The game was based on a roguelike approach, using ASCII graphics that computers were capable of at the time, and placed the player in the harsh conditions of Finland during the Iron Age. Unlike traditional roguelikes where there was a goal to reach, UnReal World's only goal was to survive as long as possible against wild creatures and the dangers that the snowy weather created. Wurm Online is also considered an early predecessor of the survival game. As a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, the game set players as characters in a medieval setting, allowing them to terraform the land, create buildings, and effectively develop their own kingdoms. Initial development began in 2003 by Rolf Jansson and Markus Persson, and though Persson left around 2007, the game continues to be operated and expanded in the present.
Persson became instrumental in developing Minecraft, the title that is considered to have given popularity to the survival game genre. Within initial public releases in 2009, Minecraft focuses on resource-gathering and crafting in a procedurally-generated world, and requiring the player to defend themselves during night cycles while managing to scavenge for resources otherwise.
Another key title in the survival genre was DayZ. It was originally released as a mod in 2012 for ARMA 2, but due to its popularity, was later expanded to a standalone game. The game sets the players in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, requiring the characters to avoid hordes of zombies while scavenging through the remains of human civilization for resources.
As a result of the financial success of Minecraft and DayZ, the survival genre began to see numerous titles released from 2012 onward. Some considered that the market has become saturated with many titles based on the same post-apocalyptic setting, clones of more popular titles, and titles released as a quick attempt to make money using Early Access models.
Survival games are considered an extension of common video game themes where the player-character is stranded or separated from others, and must work alone to survive and complete a goal. Survival games primarily focus on the survival parts of these games, and adding in elements of exploration of an open world.
Survival games are based on having the player's character survive as long as possible in a harsh environment. At the start of a game, the player is placed in the game's world with few resources. The world itself is often randomly or prodecurally generated so that players will have to explore the area to find food and other resources, with knowledge from previous games being used for visual and audio cues about where resources may be found nearby. The player-character will typically have a health bar, and can take damage from falling, starving, drowning, stepping into lava or similar deadly liquids, or being attacked by monsters that inhabit the world. Other metrics may also come into play, such as Don't Starve having both a separate hunger gauge and a sanity meter, both which if run empty will cause the death of the character. In some games, character death is not the end of the game, as the world stays persistent and the character returned to a safe point but with some penalty, such has having all their inventory at the time left where they died, or some cost of in-game money. Other survival games use permadeath, that once the character has died, the player will need to restart the game with a newly generated world. While many survival games are aimed at constantly putting the player at risk from hostile creatures or the environment, other survival games may downplay the amount of danger the player faces and instead encourage more open-world gameplay, where player-character death can still occur if the player is not careful or properly equipped.
Many survival games feature crafting systems; by combining two or more resources, the player can create a new object, which can be further used for crafting. This enables gameplay where the player can collect resources to craft new tools that enable them to access better resources that will eventually lead to better tools and weapons. A common example is creation of pick-axes of various levels of hardness, starting from wood; these allow stone to be mined but not metallic ores, but a stone pickaxe, made from collected stone, can be used to mine these ores. The same concept applies to weapons and armor, with those made out of more difficult-to-acquire materials providing better offensive and defense bonuses. Often, the crafting system includes durability factors for tools and weapons, so that after repeated uses, the tool will break and new ones created. Crafting systems may not give the player the necessary recipes for crafting, requiring this to be learned through discovery or through game guides.
There is rarely a winning condition for survival games; the challenge to the player is to last as long as possible, though some games set a goal for survival time. As such, there is rarely any significant story in these games, beyond setting up the reason why the player-character has found themselves in this situation. Some survival games provide quests to help guide the player to learn the game's survival mechanics and lead them to more dangerous areas as to acquire better resources. Because of the open-world nature and crafting systems, some open-world games can allow for user-made creations to be built. Minecraft for examples allows players to place blocks to construct crude shelters for protection, but as they gather more resources and readily survive, players can create massive structures from the game's building blocks, often modeling real-world and fictional buildings. Survival games typically feature non-replenishing resources, though the player can take steps to allow new resources to become available. For example, in Terraria, chopping down a tree will eliminate that tree from the game, but the player can replant seeds that will allow new trees to grow.
Survival games are nearly always playable as a single player, but many are designed as multiplayer experiences, with game servers hosting the persistent world that players will connect to. The open-ended nature of these games encourage players to work together to survive, but do not prevent the killing of player-characters, and in some cases, can making this a rewarding goal such being able to loot the dead character's body. This can lead to players forming alliances, constructing fortified structures and working together to protect themselves from both the dangers presented by the game's world and from other player-characters. Survival games are often closely related to the survival horror genre, in which the player must survive within a setting based on the supernatural, such as a zombie apocalypse.
Many survival games are presented in the first-person perspective to help immerse the player in the game. Other titles have taken other methods of presentation: games like Terraria and Starbound are presented as two-dimensional side views, while Don't Starve uses sprites rendered in a three-dimensional isometric projection. Further, while survival games are considered action games, there are other genres that feature the survival theme, such as turn-based role-playing games Dead State and NEO Scavenger, and the first-person shooter, story-driven S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. Survival mechanics, particularly resource gathering, hunting, and crafting, have also become elements other other genres, such as 2013's Tomb Raider and the Far Cry series.
List of survival games
|This section is incomplete. (August 2015)|
The following is a representative list of games classified in the survival genre.
|1999||Survival Kids||Konami||Game Boy, Game Boy Color|
|2005||Pathologic||Ice-Pick Lodge||Microsoft Windows|
|2009||Minecraft||Mojang||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Raspberry Pi, Universal Windows Platform|
|2012||DayZ||Dean Hall||Microsoft Windows||Later released as a standalone game|
|2012||Infestation: Survivor Stories||Hammerpoint Interactive||Microsoft Windows||Previously known as WarZ|
|2012||I Am Alive||Ubisoft Shanghai and Darkworks||Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Playstation 3|
|2013||Don't Starve||Klei Entertainment||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux||Don't Starve Together was later released|
|2013||Starbound||Chucklefish Games||Microsoft Windows|
|2013||Rust||Facepunch Studios||Microsoft Windows||Released onto Steam's Early Access platform|
|2013||7 Days to Die||The Fun Pimps||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux|
|2013||Day One: Garry's Incident||Wild Games Studio||Microsoft Windows||Sparked controversy when a video by YouTuber TotalBiscuit was taken down|
|2013 - 2014||How to Survive||EKO Software||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U|
|2014||Sir, You Are Being Hunted||Big Robot||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux|
|2014||The Long Dark||Hinterland||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux|
|2014||The Forest||Endnight Games||Microsoft Windows|
|2015||H1Z1||Daybreak Game Company||Microsoft Windows|
|2014-15||Subnautica||Unknown Worlds Entertainment||Microsoft Windows, OS X||Still in development; early access game; full release date uncertain|
|2015||Ark: Survival Evolved||Studio Wildcard / Instinct Games||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One|
|2015||Dyscourse||Owlchemy Labs||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux|
|2016||We Happy Few||Compulsion Games||Microsoft Windows, Xbox One|
|2016||No Man's Sky||Hello Games||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4|
- Smith, Graham (October 20, 2014). "Survival Games Are Important". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
- "Has the open world survival genre run its course?". PC Gamer. March 27, 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
- Orr, Lucy (February 4, 2014). "The revival of survival – the gaming genre that refuses to die". The Register. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
- Macdonald, Keza (January 1, 2014). "6 OF THE BEST SURVIVAL GAMES". IGN. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
- Lane, Rick (July 5, 2013). "VIRTUAL SELECTION: THE RISE OF THE SURVIVAL GAME". IGN. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- Roberts, Samual (September 9, 2015). "No Man's Sky: how to play a game with 18 quintillion worlds". PC Gamer. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
- Hillier, Brenna. "Dying Light and the survival renaissance". VG247.
- Ross, Andrew (May 8, 2014). "Rust, H1Z1, and the emerging 'survival MMO' genre". Engadget. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
- Burford, GB (February 4, 2015). "Most Survival Games Have Problems That S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Solved Long Ago". Kotaku AU. Retrieved August 10, 2015.