Survarium interview: the devs talk about Stalker's spiritual MMO sequel

When GSC Game World went nuclear last year, it was feared that the Stalker series would be buried in the irradiated rubble. Instead, the ensuing months have seen no shortage of scavengers attempt to lay claim to the ownership of the gloomy open-world shooter. Meanwhile, the actual developers responsible for building its aborted sequel have dusted themselves off and set up on their own. Though their new project doesn't have the Stalker name, it shares a lot of its DNA - albeit mutated into a new free-to-play MMO form. Alexei Sytyanov, lead designer at the newly minted Vostok Games, tells us all about survival in their online wilderness.

Can you talk about why GSС broke up and why Stalker 2 was cancelled? What were the management's worries about the game?

The reasons are still mainly unknown to us. The development of Stalker 2 was going full throttle, nothing bad whatsoever was looming in the air.

How different is Survarium from the aborted Stalker 2 in terms of technology and design?

First off, Survarium is an MMOFPS, while Stalker 2 is a single-player game. Those are very different technologies – Survarium requires a server, player lobby and a bunch of other things on top that a singleplayer game wouldn't need.

In terms of design, there are major differences too – firstly, this is a focus on massive multiplayer. In this context, you expect entire systems like chat, forums, stores etc. On top of the story and game tasks, there is communication and competition between the players, all to add dynamics and unexpectedness to the gameplay. Each game session differs from the previous one. The game constantly encourages players to show their inventiveness and skills, abilities of strategy to achieve victory.

The online market (we believe) is the future. In the virtual world players meet other living players, as opposed to bots. However perfect the bots are, they never will be able to be totally different, alive and unpredictable as real players.

Let me add a few important points here. First, this is protection against piracy which severely affects sales of a singleplayer game, and second, no less important, is a possibility of constant project development. Thus, from the moment of release, online projects only start their path – they constantly open new possibilities to the players and keep improving both graphics and gameplay.

Both games feature the Chernobyl area - but Survarium talks about a global ecological catastrophe, not just a nuclear one. Why the change in focus?

The characteristic feature of our games is their ecological implication. The modern science and technocratic society exists on the verge of a global eco-catastrophe. Our stories of what will happen in case the thin ecological balance is shaken and we end up in an irreversibly bad ecological catastrophe that seizes the entire world. How are we going to survive and what will be happening. There is some food for thought here. We are talking about the importance of saving life on Earth now, while we are standing on the edge already.

I'd like to remind you that Stalker was not about a nuclear catastrophe, but about dangerous scientific experiments that have been secretly held on the territory of Chernobyl zone, which actually led to the emerging of the Zone. The nuclear catastrophe was just a disguise.

As for Chernobyl, some of our locations are from the Chernobyl zone. There are several reasons for that – we want to please the fans and to show the succession of the projects.

Will you face monsters as you did in Stalker, or are the threats more earthly - other humans and animals?

Yes, mutants are going to be horrifying and realistic. There will be both – animal and human-like ones.

Can you tell us about the kind of anomalies players will encounter?

We plan to develop the ideas of an anomalous zone which are familiar to you from Stalker, but on a new quality level. The anomalies and artifacts will be in PVP clashes, in co-op play and during the exploration of the Survarium world.

Will players need to cooperate to overcome some anomalies?

Yes, we plan such a system. Players will need to help each other when coming into contact with certain anomalies.

How will the MMO aspect of the game work? Is it instanced? Is it one server?

We offer several play modes – team-based combat, co-operative adventures of a small group of friends and a free-play mode where players are on their own, they are free to both cooperate and compete with each other, alone or in group, which allows totally unique gaming situations to appear spontaneously. There is nothing even close to this happening in a singleplayer game. We have a session-based design, where a session lasts, depending on the mode, from 15 minutes up to an hour. Thus, the players make sallies into the world of Survarium, and those are backed up by the story – protection and capture of important territories and camps, survival, world exploration and so on.

We will limit the number of players on the map – in this way we will receive balanced gameplay and preserve the atmosphere which can be destroyed by a large number of players in one place.

Will there be any separation of PVP and PVE?

PVP and PVE modes differ – we have three different game modes, each with its own inner logic. Thus, for example, in the team-based mode there won't be monsters, but in co-op and free-play ones we'll have them; and besides the monsters, players will be able to compete and kill each other. This said, all the three modes are united by the single world where the players can chat and exchange with each other.

How do the factions work? Are they player-defined organisations, like EVE's Corps, or more like Horde and Alliance?

There are basic factions, such as Scavengers Camp and Black Market, they provide equipment and give tasks and they also participate in the common story of the game world. The players are unable to join those factions. But on top of the basic ones, there will be factions (similar to clans) created by the players. They will be able to develop those, enroll new members, wear specific colors and insignia, conflict with factions of other players.

Is there an end goal or a narrative? Or is the aim simply survival?

Survival is the basis of the game. We plan a big story which the players can influence, as opposed to the singleplayer games. For instance, one part of players chooses tasks on defending a story-related object, which other part of the players will attempt to get it destroyed. Ultimately, the side accomplishing more tasks will impact the story. Therefore, it will decide whether that story object is to get preserved or destroyed for the entire world of Survarium.

Is DayZ an inspiration for the way it handles survival mechanics? Will players get hungry etc?

We plan to add food, but its use in session-based gameplay will be different as we are not going to implement the notion of hunger for a session lasting less than an hour. We are still considering how the food is going to influence the gameplay.

As for DayZ – our approach to survival in the game differs. How exactly – you'll find out at the launch.

Will it be as ruthless as DayZ?

It will be as ruthless as Survarium. We are creating a truthful story of a green apocalypse. Our strong point is the realistic science fiction, as it could happen for real. This makes an important feature of the project's atmosphere. We want the player to have shivers all over the body as he plays.

The game is free-to-play. How will you make money from it?

Premium accounts enabling you to speed up your development increase the experience and the in-game currency gained. In addition, selling exotic goods, decoration and small additional possibilities which do not affect the game balance.

We do not plan to sell any items which would break the game balance. For example, a weapon, which is much more powerful compared to similar ones purchased with the in-game currency. On the battlefield players should be in equal condition. We do not want to destroy the game by turning it into pay-to-win. We are after a fair game where everybody is in equal condition.

Give us a sense of what it will be like to play the game: what sort of things will a player typically do across an evening of gaming?

Participation in massive battles among the destroyed towns and settlements, on dead military bases, in the places of ecological catastrophes. Accomplishing faction tasks to earn money to purchase new equipment and weapons, exploring the world to reveal the story behind the reasons behind the catastrophe and its consequences. By joint effort, saving mankind's remains from the expanding forest anomaly; influencing the fate of the Survarium world. And, certainly, surviving, surviving and once again, surviving!