Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rust: The phenomenally popular survival experience

Unless you have been living in a hole for the last month or two, you have probably heard of the explosive success of the Early Access first-person multiplayer survival game, Rust. Rust pits you against zombies, rabid wolves and hordes of hostile players, with only a rock to defend yourself. You start off in the world literally naked, with a practically empty inventory. Your goal for the following several minutes is to hit your rock against trees and other rocks until you have enough raw materials to make a pathetic ramshackle house and stone hatchet. Over the next few in-game days, you will craft a bow, go hunting for deer and perhaps find a few blueprints to craft items like wood storage boxes, flashlights and even some armor. Once you have some basic tools and armor, you can start building a better house. This can take days, even weeks in game. You need to farm inventory-loads of wood and metal, and then smelt the metal down into scraps and craft the wood into planks. As soon as you have built a stable, secure house you can start fighting other players for item drops in one of the several radiation-filled towns across the map. From there, you will hopefully find some guns, craft some ammo and start owning your enemies.

Seems simple, right? False. Almost anywhere you go in Rust, you are guaranteed to die. A lot. And this isn't some horrible unbalanced problem with the game, it's just how it is played. You slowly, carefully inch towards the seemingly impossible goal of getting guns and armor, so that you can finally become one of the people that you would have been killed by 10 hours ago. Thankfully, you have the option to respawn at one of your sleeping bags after you get killed, but you lose everything in your inventory except for the blueprints you have learned. This allows slow but steady progress, because while you might be killed one day, the next day you could be able to craft a shotgun, go kill your assailant and reclaim your items.

So, for such a competitive and difficult game to play, not to mention one with so far to go before it is out of alpha, why is it one of the most played games on Steam, often rivaling the player numbers of Skyrim and Counter-Strike?

We all know competition brings out the best in some and the worst in others. Right now, there are two new multiplayer survival games on Early Access that are demanding attention. Rust is the first and most popular, and the other is a standalone port of the popular Arma 2 zombie survival mod DayZ. Now don't get me wrong, although DayZ has fewer players than Rust, it is not an awful game. It's just rougher around the edges than Rust is. Rust exhibits a good crafting system, an enormous map, plenty of options for player contact and a vastly greater server capacity than DayZ. While Rust can sometimes sport 100 people on a server, DayZ servers are locked at a puny 40 players. Take into account the fact that DayZ is quite a bit more expensive than Rust, and you can see why Rust is winning the race overall.

The creators of Rust, Facepunch Studios, are headed by the well-known game developer Garry Newman, creator of the widely famous Garry's Mod. Logic makes one assume that many fans of Gmod are fans of Garry himself. Therefore, when Garry decided to make a new game, his loyal fans were chomping at the bit to play as soon as it came out. Once Rust finally entered the market, it sold about 4 times the amount of copies in the first two weeks than Garry's Mod did. Armed with 150,000 new players, Rust charged forward with frequent updates, enjoying plenty of graphics changes, player balancing, new animals and enemies, and (the internet conversation topic of the week) removal of zombies. Garry posted on Rust's website playrust.com that zombies were "just plugging a gap". Since then he has set up a survey on the Facepunch forums so that the players can decide the next enemy type, be it dinosaurs, robots, aliens or irradiated military. Garry's tactful openness to player input is undoubtedly a good reason why Rust has been so successful. The players are the ones in control, and as the game gets older and more players join, it will hopefully continue to be molded by players' suggestions.

For an Alpha, it is highly unusual for Rust to be doing so well. However, the skilled developers combined with the large fanbase will hopefully bring Rust to its final stage sometime in the next year. For now, there are weekly content updates and a very active forum to keep us interested. I'm sure I speak for many of us when I say that I'm excited to see what the game has to offer in months to come.

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