The Stomping Land is a new survival sandbox game that - incredibly - doesn't feature zombies or pixelated bricks that let you make things. It's all about dinosaurs, and it's looking rather impressive too. Dave Cook speaks with UI artist and Graphic designer Lee Fisk to find out more.
Dinosaurs are brilliant, but have been sorely under-represented in video games over the last decade. It's all military this, assassins that and a never-ending flood of zombies.
Here's just one example of why dinosaurs are the best thing ever:
So imagine my pleasant surprise when I turned up late to the party and encountered The Stomping Land, a new survival sandbox game featuring dinosaurs that's coming to Steam on May 30. Developed by Alex Fundora and team, the title places you as a hunter tasked with stalking a range of hostile dinos for food while fighting against other humans.
Not only can you hunt and kill dinosaurs for their flesh, but you can tame and ride them too. It's entirely possible for up to three players to hop on the back of a Styracosaurus and chase after another tribe of players while hurling arrows and bolas at them from up high. Do you see why this could be awesome yet?
It's a true survival experience too, with no inventory and a neat tracking system that requires you to follow dinosaur footprints across the game's vast island, and even use the stars themselves for direction. That's right, each creature is marked by a real-time star in sky. Simply look up, follow a star cluster then, before long, you'll encounter what can only be described as an all-you-can-eat dinosaur buffet.
This buffet bites back of course, so players must use a stealthy approach to hunting. That's where the game's arsenal of arrows types and camouflage system come into play. It's possible to find pieces of foliage in the world and slap them on your avatar to design your own unique ghillie suit that - while giving your survivor more of an identity - also makes them harder to spot in the undergrowth. Pine cones and bright flowers are of course optional, if you wish to use them.
Environmental Artist Lee Fisk tells me over Skype that project lead Alex Fundora worked at Bethesda before creating The Stomping Land concept, and that the pair previously studied together at university. Now, the team has swelled to seven, not counting a range of other contributors, and the project is looking mighty attractive for fans of dinosaurs and survival sandbox games in general.
"That was an idea Alex had from the beginning," Fisk says of the ingenious star map mechanic. "He was like, 'I have this idea, I don't know how I'm going to implement it, but we're going to figure it out. It's going to be awesome.' It ended up coming together great, because without the stars finding the big dinosaurs was pretty challenging, to random chance. They're still not telling you where these things are, they're just giving you a direction to go.
"At the same time they encourage player-versus-player encounters, because everyone has the same need to get these big dinosaurs. The big dinosaurs are going to fight each other - you can see that in the stars - and if everyone's going to go there it's going to encourage player-choice as well. Do I want to engage and try to collect that meat, or am I going to die? Is someone there waiting for me? It creates this suspense and drama I think is really fun."
It's like in Rust, when you see a group of shacks in the wilderness yet there appears to be no-one else around. Do you cross through the makeshift village risking detection and even death, or do you seek a longer path around the area to play it safe? The Stomping Land will force you to make those quick, important decisions on the fly, which isn't so simple when you've got rampaging dinosaurs trying to tear you limb from limb.
Arrow types feed into strategic play, such as smoke ammo that can be used to conceal your movement, or whistling arrows that can lure dinosaurs away from a zone. You can even spoil another player's day by splattering them with a paint shot, which makes them stand out for every hunter and creature to see. Nothing ruins a player's day like a coat of eggshell white when they're trying to remain hidden.
"We've tried to create this environment where you're not being actively hunted, but if you present yourself as a threat or a convenient meal, you'll be killed or eaten," Fisk adds before stressing that like any good survival game, you'll start to get a feel for the world's rules and how dinosaurs react to you with each death or failure. It's going to be difficult, make no mistake, but The Stomping Land will absolutely reward those who persevere.
"You have the spear, bolas, bow and arrow and then you also have a hatchet," Fisk says of the player's PvP arsenal. He explains that it's possible to capture other hunters by binding their legs using the bolas, rather than simply sticking them with arrows. Working as a tribe, groups can even corral a hostile using their projectiles while another hunter rushes them with a spear. If the player is low on weapons, they can still use their default hatchet to get the job done. There are plenty of options.
Speaking of the hatchet, Fisk tells me that it's used as both a weapon and resource-gathering tool. Unlike games like Minecraft and Rust, The Stomping Land's crafting mechanic is much simpler, requiring players to throw ingredients into a storage box before mixing them together. These boxes are important however, as hunters don't have inventory slots - or pockets of any kind for that matter - so they must stash all their material in the wild, at the mercy of other players.
"If you happen upon someone else's box of resources, you can just take that, tear it apart, us it, ruin their day," Fisk laughs, before telling me that the boxes can also be used to craft encampments for you and your tribe. "Right now in the current build - and this is subject to change - you can't destroy each other's camp items. That could change in future, but right now if you log off and log on, your camp is free reign - people can come in and out or whatever.
"With Rust it felt like your only goal was you had to build a house, and spend six hours securing it, then you come back [to find it trashed] like, 'god damn it, I just spent six hours building this.' You'll feel the loss, but that's not the focus. The focus is, 'I need to eat, I need to go kill these dinosaurs,' and you'll get your own revenge on other players later."
Fisk stresses that while players can stockpile resources and build camps, it is not important in the long-term, so while you might log on to find your home and stash gone, all that really matters is staying full and working towards that next meal. For someone who has felt the sting of losing a lot in Rust - as I'm sure many of you have - that's definitely a plus-point.
Also, who wants a flimsy tent when you have your very own dinosaur mount? "If you fell a dinosaur - the smaller ones like Gallimimus or Stygimoloch - you can stab them three times to knock them down, then choose to either harvest their meat, or you can try to heal them. To heal them and later ride them - and this is true for all dinosaurs - you'll need to get a special herb from the caves."
Ah yes the caves, these vast, pitch-black tunnel networks run beneath The Stomping Land's island and pose as much of a threat to a hunter's safety as a pissed-off Tyrannosaurus. Go in without a torch and you'll be killed before you fumble your way back out, or at least get so lost you'll have to give up or wait for another hunter to kill you. Going in there for healing herbs is part of the game's superb blend of risk-reward, as you'll need them to revive your friends or downed dinos.
On top of everything we discussed, The Stomping Land features dynamic weather that hampers visibility, washes away dinosaur and hunter footprints, and makes venturing across the landscape potentially hazardous. There's also dense foliage that hides hidden threats, and a population of sneaky, murderous player-controlled hunters out there who want nothing more than to harvest those tasty dinosaurs before you do.
How far would you be willing to go for your next meal?
The Stomping Land hits Steam Early Access for Kickstarter backers May 23, and for non-backers on May 30 at $24.99.