Opinion ARK Survival Evolved... A Case Study | Part 1 - the Control Design

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by TheShyestJake, Apr 1, 2017.

  1. TheShyestJake

    TheShyestJake Member

    Mar 7, 2017
    ARK Survival Evolved is actually one of the most poorly designed games I think I've ever seen. This is, of course, excluding the asset flip... That's a different story altogether. Looking at you, DigitalHomicide

    There are a lot of things wrong with ARK and most of it seems to come from a core design philosophy that is very much flawed.

    The controls are messy; progression, where it does exist, is underwhelming; the dinosaurs, which by the way, are the main selling points for the game, are crap; survival elements bog down the game and mostly just boil down to babysitting the player; there's no real teaching the player the game through design, and I get that ARK isn't the kind of game that normally does this, but it's still something I hate to see thrown out the window, and I'll explain why I think ARK could've benefited from it.

    Control Layout
    The first thing about this game that I absolutely despise is the atrocious control design. I mean honestly, just look at it:


    It's a big wall of text. Whose idea was this? This is not something you want in your game, this is something you want in a debug window.

    So what's actually wrong with it? Well the first thing I noticed upon first playing the game is that there are just too many buttons. Why in the world does this game have rebind-able turning options? It's as if they looked at all of the conventions established over the last couple decades of gaming and said with absolute confidence, "ya know what we're not gonna do?"

    Let's look at how this can be cleaned up and organized first. As a general rule, one should want to organize items with other items like it.

    So for this control scheme I would move all of the things that were immediately relevant to the player into a little box in the top left. This is where you would put strafing and moving, crouching, prone, turning, jumping, run, use, etc. Wait, look at that... What is that ugly little thing. A... S-s-elfie cam? What is it doing in a game like ARK and why is it... why does it have its own button..? What kind of player did they think would even want this..?

    What I would do next is move all of the combat controls to their own section. So aim, fire, reload, melee, toggle weapon, etc. would get their own box.
    And we could do this with everything else as well. Why are the item hotkeys in a list right there in the middle of animal command hotkeys? This doesn't make sense.
    The last thing I would do is instead of making turning and movement rebind-able, I would give the player the option to use the mouse or arrow keys, and the option to use WASD or arrow keys. I use an English keyboard, so perhaps this wouldn't be ideal for the sake of localization, but it's a start; especially for getting rid of the option to change individual turning direction. I mean seriously, what does this do? Who does this help?

    So let's move on the the next thing we can do to fix this control scheme. Simplification. It's a tool; let's use it.

    Do not give crouch and prone their own buttons... Stop that, just stop. Hold it down or press it twice to prone. This should've been obvious from the start.

    What are the different whistle commands doing with their own buttons? Four buttons for effectively three actions? Follow, wait, attack. that's it right? Well what if I told you we could do all three actions with only one button? Press it once while hovering over/highlighting a tamed dinosaur to make it follow. Do the same to make it wait. Hold the button to make all of the dinosaurs that are following you wait; then give the player the option to make them all follow at once. I'd advise against doing this at your base surrounded by all of your animals... but it's your game, do what you want. We don't actually need an attack command though, do we? An effective game AI should be able to tell if ****'s about to go down, and act accordingly.

    And there it is, all of the animal commands only use one key. Now, could you add extra buttons to make your dinosaurs behave in different ways? Well, yeah do it, that's awesome. Want squad commands like Mass Effect? Add an extra button or two for that. But do not add complexity for the sake of complexity; in other words, subtract before you add.

    I just solved ARK's control design problems. I feel pretty good about this.

    I was going to try and put my arguments all in one post, but it would seem that this is very lengthy. There's just so many things wrong with the design in this game, and I'd really like to cover them all. If you actually do enjoy ARK, though, I'd love to hear your opinions on the matter, it's interesting to hear different sides of the argument.

    Keep a look out for part two if you thought this was a decent read! I'll be covering how some of the design problems with the animals can be fixed.
  2. amusudan

    amusudan Lousiest of Potatoes

    Jun 20, 2016
    "I just solved ARK's control design problems. I feel pretty good about this."
    No, you think you solved ARK's control problems, there will be many that disagree.
  3. TheShyestJake

    TheShyestJake Member

    Mar 7, 2017
    To be really honest, that is the whole point. If someone disagrees with me I'd encourage them to say something about it. Without argument there is no progress.
    SyntheticStorm9 likes this.
  4. hippyman

    hippyman Member

    Jun 20, 2016
    I would be part of this group. I personally feel that the game is fantastic.

    I don't understand what makes this not standard to most other PC games. I have almost 300 games in my Steam library (granted I've probably only played less than 50% of them) and most of the games I play allow you to rebind your actions to different keys. Even several console games allow this functionality.

    I can agree that the organization could be better but that's really grasping at straws. Everything is right there without the need to scroll so it's not hard to read what's there. I imagine the selfie cam is for people that want to take screenshots with their character in it or just for a free-look while running from predators so you don't have to turn around while running. It could probably be named better but it's still a useful feature.

    The four whistle commands are stay put and follow commands with the difference being that you're addressing all of your tames or just the one you're currently looking at. Yes you can use the wheel every time but say you have a bunch of tames with you and a Trex starts rushing you. You can hold the key and wait for the wheel to show up and then find the command you want to use or you can just use the hotkey for the specific whistle you need. Which do you think is faster? Obviously the single key press.
    They also come in handy when you build up a large amount of tames and you need to start moving them around your base. It's way faster selecting the ones you want to move with the hotkey versus opening the wheel every single time. Keep in mind that you can tame 600 creatures. I think this setting is editable but my current single player game says I can tame up to 600 so that obviously would take forever with the command wheel against just point and shoot.

    What do you mean by "progression, where it does exist"? That's pretty much the entire game. There's a ton of unlocks as you level up and it's pretty diverse as well.
    Do you have any reason for why the dinosaurs are "crap"? The AI is actually pretty impressive for a game that has so much of it. The diversity of creatures is pretty amazing as well. Not only are there a bunch of dinos, there are a bunch of mammals and fish as well. Different creatures require different strategies to hunt or KO for taming. It's honestly pretty impressive and far from crap.
    As for the whole teaching the player thing, as you even said yourself, games like this aren't made to hold your hand. The point is to get that sense of learning through trial and error rather than some boring textbox that says you can do this or that. It's a survival game, not Candy Crush.

    Don't get me wrong, everybody is entitled to their own opinions. But to blatantly say you solved Ark's "design problems" is just arrogant. A lot of this is just grasping at straws and doesn't really have any validity as to why this game is so "poorly designed" as you state.

    I hate to make assumptions, but I get the feeling you didn't play this game very much. There's a reason it's as popular as it is. It's a really well made game and I think you're opinion would change if you really gave it a chance. Unless these kind of games just aren't your cup of tea. That's entirely understandable.
    Skull Wolf and Shawn Basnett like this.
  5. TheShyestJake

    TheShyestJake Member

    Mar 7, 2017
    I can tell I'm stepping on a few people's toes with saying that I hate this game. But I'll say that ARK isn't entirely bad. It certainly tried; it has a few really great concepts that, if fleshed out, could be absolutely wonderful. And, by the way, don't try to tell me that because it's in early access, it is infallible. It is not.

    For the record, I actually really love survival elements in games. Fallout: New Vegas did it the best, and I haven't seen any game do it better since. (My view of it is a bit skewed, I'll admit, I used tons of mods, but hey if ARK were moddable I'd say the same thing about it.)

    The problem is when it becomes about baby sitting a UI element. That is when it becomes a problem, and ARK is no exception. Why does this warm water make me cold? Can anyone tell me? And humans just do not overheat like ARK's humans do... they just don't. And there's nothing there to indicate that I should be getting hot either, it doesn't make any sense.

    The game didn't grab my attention at all. Do you think if the game didn't have dinosaurs, and a misleading trailer, that anyone would've invested the time they do in the game? I'm of the opinion that it's the only reason people gravitated toward it. The problem is not that I don't like this type of game, but rather that I don't like this game.

    But I digress, my point is that a game should grab your attention within the first five to ten minutes. In ARK's case, it had dinosaurs going for it. The thing is, the first dinosaur you see when you start the game is a dodo-bird... arguably not a dinosaur at all, and they're not doing anything; they don't really engage with the player, and they don't interact much if at all with their environment. Same thing with the more impressive, but the same in principle, brontosaurus, or whatever it is; they're everywhere, and what are they doing? Walking back and forth, and being obnoxious with screen shake, and their moon-walking... sliding around like they're on ice. When the dodo-bird, and the brontosaurus, are moving about, and interacting with things in the exact same way as each other, the game just falls apart.

    I mean just imagine for a second, you open up the game; the loading screen doesn't take forever, and the first thing you see when you finish character creation is a couple dodo-birds wrestling and playing with each-other like actual animals. Then a velociraptor comes out of a bush and eats one of them, forcing the other one to run away. The raptor glares at you for a second, trying to decide if it should waste the energy to kill you too. But then the raptor dives into its prey, picks it up in its jaws and sprints away into the forest. Oh boy, that'd give me chills. It'd immediately tell the player: this is a survival game. You could've died just now, you got lucky. If ARK had something as engaging as this I would love it.

    Instead? your character just scratches at their arm a bit. Like, what? It's dumb. The whole point is that you're dropped into an unforgiving, harsh environment; would my version up above, or some variant of it, not do this better?

    Okay, so the game doesn't have a AAA budget, and that's a perfectly reasonable argument. AI development is hard, and takes a very long time to master. That being said, when you build your game around a poor AI, what you get is an uninteresting end product. I mean, honestly, if I can look at the pterodactyls in ARK, and their behaviors are similar to the flying creatures in Morrowind, (their name escapes me) your game is bad. That **** brings me right out of the experience. the reason it doesn't break Morrowind by the way is because when you play that game now you expect that to happen; the game was released in 2002. That same thing in a game in 2015 is, dare I say, inexcusable.

    Saying that because I want engaging behaviors in AI, and decently implemented control schemes in my games, is akin to saying I want all games to be candy crush, is dangerously ignorant; it really just undermines the whole point I'm trying to make.

    You mention that you think the game is fantastic right under a quote about how I haven't actually fixed the controls. You do know this was only supposed to be about the control design? It's bad... and I'm not arguing against reconfigurable controls. I did mention that the movement keys shouldn't be rebindable but as I thought about it I realized I only meant the turning controls, and even then, why would you want anything but the mouse? For accessibility? Maybe they wanted people without hands to be able to play ARK with their feet. Actually that's probably exactly what it was, because it doesn't make sense otherwise.
  6. SyntheticStorm9

    SyntheticStorm9 Member

    Oct 21, 2016
    It literally says in the game menu and description that it is a work in progress.
    Skull Wolf likes this.
  7. TheShyestJake

    TheShyestJake Member

    Mar 7, 2017
    I don't think that makes it above criticism
    Skull Wolf and SyntheticStorm9 like this.

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