New scavenger here... first thoughts on the game
Hi Dan and fellow scavengers!
I first discovered NEOScavenger via a random post on NoMutantsAllowed, when someone asked about "realistic survival games". I was on the fence for a few weeks; I liked the demo but felt there was still a lot of work to do on the game, and the "Flash" nature put me off a bit (not a fan of browser games). Then I randomly came across a wonderful article talking about your (Dan's) time at BioWare and at the end it mentioned his indie game... it was NEOScavenger! I really wanted to support the efforts of someone who'd worked on games I'd loved, and who was taking a big risk to follow his heart... so I bought NEOSCavenger at once and have been playing the Beta for the past few days since. Now I wanted to share some thoughts so far; apologies for the long-winded post that follows!
I'm a HUGE post apocalypse fan, but I've often lamented that most PA games focused more on fighting strange mutants or dystopian authorities than the business of day-to-day survival. I've been a 'Fallout' fan since the first game, and also being a big retro 50's geek, the "World Fair" sci-fi setting appealed to me... but deep down, I've always wanted a "realistic survival" PA game. Games like 'Bad Blood', 'Burntime', 'The Fall', 'Rage', 'I'm Alive', even Fallout's "rebirth" under Bethesda... all failed to provide what I was looking for in a PA game; I'd sought out old and obscure survival games that came close to trying what I wanted ('Boomtown', 'Wilderness', 'Oregon Trail', 'Survival') but nothing really got it 'right', IMO. A couple of zombie PA games (I'm also a huge zombie fan, though I lament that so many seem to say "PA==zombies" these days) like 'Zafehouse: Diaries' and particularly 'Project Zombiod' come perhaps closest, but the're still first and foremost "zombie games".
NEOScavenger could well be the closest to the game I've always wanted, at least in terms of potential. There are a few things that IMO need a fair bit of work, and some hints at future developments that worry me slightly, but it is definitely the best "post apocalypse survival game" I've played, and I've played (and modded!) a LOT.
Firstly, scavenging. Scavenging (and hoarding) loot is something I'm rather OCD about in games. Betehsda's Fallout games were a dream come true in this regard, as I gathered up every scrap of clutter not nailed down! Indeed, with some heavy modding, Beth's Fallouts (when not played for the main story) are the closest to the kind of "survival" PA game I want. I love the feeling of elation in a game when you find an "OMG" item... in NEOSCavenger, this is like finding a gun or nightvision goggles, or even a multitool. The mixed feeling of "at last!" and "have to be careful with this!" The idea that something we take for granted now is a "Holy Grail" in a PA world appeals to me. I also love food scrounging; the idea of being overjoyed to find a can of Spam, or to catch a wild animal for food.
Crafting is also something I LOVE in games. While Beth's Fallouts have lots of items, most of it is junk clutter. What I love about NEOScavenger - at least potentially - is the crafting system and the value of seemingly random items you might not expect. I love the idea of several "solutions" to needing an item; the idea that (in theory, if not in-game yet), you could a) find a (rare) working stove and fuel, b) make a tin can "hobo" stove yourself, c) just build a campfire. NEOScavenger isn't "there" yet, but I get the feeling it could/will be eventually. Also, making the player *work* for things like a nice warm squirrel coat, an easily-slung rifle, food, or even clean water and bandages, really appeals to me. PA life is harsh and hard; clean water doesn't come out of faucets or fancy bottles anymore and there's no corner store or takeaway to get dinner from; if you want something, you have to find it or make it yourself.
Interaction and player choice. I grew up with adventure games (Sierra, LucasArts) and before that "choose your own adventures" and gamebooks ('Fighting Fantasy', etc.). The way NEOScavenger handles "encounters" - with the choose-your-option method make me think back to those wonderful old books; I loved the idea that if I'm a mechanic or really strong, I have a special option open to me that another character would not; it was a genuinely thrilling moment to realize that my new Strong+Tough build character could actually destroy the first Dogman with his bare hands! With more "puzzles" like the Exam Room 17 Camp (improving camps, dealing with other survivors and obstructions), NEOScavenger could really pull off the sense of every character being "different" without dozens of complex stats.
The overall "feel". Before I played computer RPGs, I was an avid pen-and-paper RPG gamer. I ran a WEG 'Star Wars' game for five years, and played everything from 'Call of Cthulhu' to 'Recon' to 'Paranoia' to 'Cyberpunk'. I mention this because I get a real "pen and paper" feel to NEOScavenger, in a good way. I noted that you (Dan) were a Shadowrun RPG fan... while I never really got into that system/setting (I was much more of a Cyberpunk 2020 fan), NEOScavenger kinda reminds me of the (utterly awesome) SNES 'Shadowrun' videogame at times... definitely something to be pleased about!
On that subject, I ADORE the graphic style of NEOScavenger. Putting aside my being sick of everything being 1st Person/3D rendered, NEOScavenger's sprites just feel SO right for the game. The first time I saw a Dogman enemy sprite, I grinned like an idiot at how cool they looked. Just playing NEOScavenger calls to mind some of the old DOS games I mentioned earlier, in a nostalgic but very good way.
Overall, I'm thrilled I took the plunge and bought NEOScavenger, even in this early stage. It's a ton of fun even with the limitations it has now, which hopefully will be fixed as development continues.
I did mention before though that I felt some things were still in need of work. Obviously this is just one new player's opinion, but my thoughts on this area were as follows, as to what needs the most attention urgently:
1) Items. For a game that places so much emphasis on scavenging (it's in the title!), I wish there were more items to find and use. No knives or machetes, no pistols or shotguns, very limited "canned food", one multitool to do everything... I get that this is presumably so there's one "type" of item for each (one gun, one blade, one blunt, one tool, etc.) right now, but I'd definitely like to see this expanded as a priority. Enemy variation is a lesser problem, but one that should eventually be addressed too (IMO, there are too many uber-foe Dogmen hiding everywhere, too... save 'em for "Oh crap!" effect!).
2) Crafting. The system is potentially awesome, but right now (IMO) falls into the old adventure game trap of: "figure out what the designer was thinking". I saw in another thread the idea that the crafting system could be revamped to work so that some items have specific "properties" (e.g. multitool would have "blade", "screwdriver", "pliers"; cleaver would have "blade", pliers would have "pliers", etc.), meaning that rather than a specific item being needed, the property is required. I like that idea a lot. I'm just as happy, though, for crafting recipes to offer sensible "alternatives" as some do now (prepare squirrel meat with either a multitool or cleaver... if, say, a knife is added to the game, it should be useable here too). Either way, so long as there are lots of crafting recipes and crafting recipe OPTIONS, I'll be very happy.
3) Story. I've noticed a lot of folks (on the feature vote page and elsewhere) want more "main quest/story" material. I can understand that, but for me - especially at this stage in the game's development - I prefer a focus on the engine itself and the overall survival aspect; scavenging and just living. IMO, going from foraging desperately barefoot in a hospital gown to living comfortably in a nice wood cabin wearing pelts and hunting with a homemade bow is for me right now what the "story" should most be. As a writer, I get the appeal of "world building" such as the DMC, Hatter, cryo facility, etc. but as a gamer playing the PA survival game I always wanted, I really can't get excited about accessing a Cyberpunk city when I'd rather be clambering though the ruins of old skyscrapers, avoiding looters and bartering with self-appointed local "warlords". That said, the art for the DMC recently posted looks awesome... I was instantly reminded of one of my all-time fave games for pure atmosphere: 'Dreamweb'.
4) Theme/Tone. Dogmen didn't bother me, but the definite hints made that the game will be taking a "supernatural" (and/or majorly sci-fi) path does cause me a little concern. Again, I appreciate the desire to build a world you personally love, but I feel NEOScavenger right now works and feels so "right" as a realistic PA survival game that the idea of introducing high-tech weapons, hovercars, mystical elements and cyberpunk cities feels a bit "odd" to me. Inexplicable horrors and monsters lurking in the depths would feel fine (even if they're not realistic, and - as was mentioned - border on Mulder/Scully opposing/unexplained origins), but the idea of buzzing around in a flying car with cyberoptic implants, a mono-katana and a plasma rifle fighting Eldrich horrors from beyond space really makes me feel that should be a *different* game entirely. But that's just my opinion; as I said, I was always more of a Cyberpunk fan than a Shadowrun one. I guess I want 'The Road' more than 'Fallout', but that's a personal thing here and I may well be in the minority here. :)
5) Save System. Having only one "slot" is definitely annoying, IMO; if I want to start a new character, my old one is deleted! Worse, when I die, my save is deleted! No way to "restore"? A pet peeve for me is games that don't have "proper" save systems; forcing you to restart everything when you die, even when you've been diligent to save, feels punishing and annoying. There is sometimes a reason for this (PvP online games, for instance), but mostly it feels like artificial difficulty and taking choice away from the player. I recently played the remake of 'XCOM' and noticed it had a "hardcore" mode with only one save. While I can see the theory (every decision *counts*), as someone who is time-poor when it comes to recreation, I want my games to be fun, not nerve-wracking and frustrating. Sure, I tend to play RPGs "in character", and stick with decisions even if they turn out to be bad ones, but having all my progress erased by a random bad "dice roll" in combat seems ludicrous to me. In pen and paper games, we have decent GMs to prevent random rolls ruining an entire adventure ("Um, crap... well... the massive blow just knocks you out..."), but an AI/videogame needs to let the player make their own "insurance" in the form of saving their game and not make every encounter an unenjoyable stress-fest of potential progress loss.
6) Character Customization. Okay, I *really* want to be able to choose my name and gender. Nothing else IMO is needed; the skill system is fine (though I think a way to learn *some* skills in-game is needed) at rounding out your character, and I'm quite happy with a fixed player sprite/appearance (no need for things like choosing minute detail like hairstyles, etc.!). I'd just like to be able to decide if I'm playing a male or female (whether this difference is recognized in some encounters or not would be neat but not important now) and that I can choose my own name. I'd think the latter would be easy, and the former could be shown with a different "paper doll" and (maybe) an alternate player sprite. The only "hard" thing I can see is redrawing clothing items for the paper doll to fit a female body shape, but there's not THAT many different clothing items in the game (and new tee-shirts/pants/etc. can mostly be "recolours" essentially) that I think it would be worth the effort. Of all the ideas I have/want, this is the one I'd actually pay again to see implemented.
7) Modding. The game needs at least basic modding, IMO. While I'd love to think that every good idea someone comes up with for a new item, weapon or crafting recipe would be added, realistically I don't see this is possible/fair. At the very least, being able to add new items/recipes or mod basic encounter rates and enemy stats would be fantastic, and would surely remove the pressure to "add item X please!" or deal with "there's too many Dogmen!" or "I want to take five skills at the start!". Besides, IMO, moddable games are the ones that outlast; people *still* play RPGs and FPS that have large mod communities while games that don't soon fall by the wayside. It also really fosters a nice spirit of "shared love" of a game between devs and fans (I have tons more respect for Bethesda than I do, say, Firaxis, based solely on their approach to fan mods).
Anyway, I've written enough of this wall of text for now, I think! I've got *tons* of ideas, suggestions and other thoughts on the game in more specific detail; those who are also players of 'Zafehouse: Diaries' will know what a "pest" I've been on that forum with feature requests, modding development and such things (it's an *awesome* game if you've not played it, incidentally!) so I apologize in advance for blathering on here... I likely will, given how much I've been enjoying NEOScavenger so far!
It's both a little sad and wonderfully exciting to see a small indie game like this just grab my attention and love better than a dozen recent AAA major release games. Great work, Dan, and I hope I haven't bored/offended you with any of my rambling opinions, comparisons and suggestions!
TLDR: Glad I bought/supported NEOScavenger and loving it! Some areas need work and focus, but overall one of (if not the) best PA survival game I've *ever* played (and I've played most of 'em!)