A developer who hates survival games is making a survival game

In Osiris: New Dawn, setting comes first. You're marooned on an alien planet and need to build mechs and battle alien horrors to survive.

Note: the video is footage from an early build at PAX West, so with some help we used developer commands to spawn vehicles and change the weather to show off more in less time.

Lead developer at Fenix Fire Brian McRae and I have something important in common: we don’t like survival games. For McRae, it might be an understatement. “I hate survival games,” he told me while showing off Osiris: New Dawn, a survival game.

You play as a member of the Osiris 2 mission, which crash lands on an arid alien planet while en route to find out what happened to the members of the Osiris 1 exploration mission. And thus, without a spaceship or food or water (or hope), all you can do is try to stay alive. Doing so involves collecting resources, building a base, finding food, and fighting off the natural fauna—survival game stuff.

Straight off a science-fiction book cover.

The key difference is that McRae didn’t set out to make one. He approached the design from direction he always has: the setting. Inspired by sci-fi films like Prometheus, Gravity, and The Martian, McRae and co. want the player to feel immersed in a gorgeous environment above anything else. In this case, it’s also a hostile one, so it’s not surprising that survival systems came into play. But instead of getting bogged down by eating and drinking every other minute, McRae wants the player to feel pushed and inspired by the systems, to “have to Matt Damon yourself out of it.” (Potatoes confirmed?) He reassured me that you won’t need to worry nearly as much about finding food when you’re within a decent vicinity of your base—it’s only when you decide to venture out that you’ll have to prepare to face the hostile environment and dangerous creatures ahead.

Let me drive.

During the day, hive-minded insect-like creatures roam around, but they’re only aggressive if you step on their turf. Feel free to scavenge and explore without worry. The night is another story. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a night cycle that doesn’t shy way from pitch blackness.  Without an artificial light source you’re basically blind, and worse, a much hungrier threat emerges after dark.
This is where Osiris gets weird. If the daytime is Starship Troopers, then night is Alien. Bizarre, uncanny monsters show up en masse and actively hunt you down. One looks like a tangle of humanoid limbs and stalks with a pack mentality. As McRae focused on one, another took note and started flanking. Not cool.

The good news is that there’s a variety of vehicles to take on your longer trips away from home that can also serve as a bastion of safety against the more aggressive monsters. We took out a slow dune buggy that bounced around the rocky terrain like the Mako 2.0 with a ton of storage space, but McRae also showed off a smaller, faster hovercraft with less carrying capacity. And while you’re space-trucking away from home, you can assign droids to do the busywork of processing minerals and other typical survival game chores. McRae hopes to make them super versatile, almost like a programmable army of Starcraft’s SCVs.

Night creatures aren't pretty.

Droids are nice, but people are even better. You’ll be able to meet up with other players, focus on building a base together, streamline individual droid production lines, and eventually, you’ll be able to build a spacecraft and explore other planets. Emphasis on the ‘eventually’—Osiris will release as an Early Access title, so before the galaxy opens up, key systems need finishing and balancing. Still, as it is, there’s a lot to see in Osiris’ massive environments. They’re handcrafted and washed over with procedural weather effects like erosion, and changes to the environment are persistent. If I dig a big hole in the ground, every player on the server will see it.

Without any playtime of my own, it’s hard to say if Osiris will feel like a refreshing survival game a few hours in or if it’s just an ambitious coat of paint for the genre. I like that it’s trying to be a cool place to explore above anything else, and it’s one heck of a looker, but until I get time to soak in its systems and see how it grows over time, I’ll reserve judgement for when it releases later this fall. 

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At only 11 years old, James took apart his parents’ computer and couldn’t figure out how to put it back together again. As an Associate Editor, he’s embarked on a dangerous quest to solve Video Games. Wish him luck.
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