Survivor DS

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by actually reviewing this game. It’s not horrible, but not’s not good, either. Or fun. Or even playable, really; there’s a weird, fatal freezing bug that seems to hit at random points with no recourse but to start over from Day 1. Aside from the game-killing but, Survivor DS is plagued by the same idiocy that every other licensed game is plagued by: it was thrown together on a shoestring budget by people who aren’t actually fans of the source material.

If you’ve never actually watched Survivor, you probably think of it in terms of this vague awareness that a bunch of attention whores are dumped off on an island, where they eat bugs and vote each other off. And while you’re not wrong, you’re missing a lot of the depth and nuance that makes the game so addicting to its fans. And that’s really the problem here: the people who made this DS game wanted nothing more than to cash in on an as-yet-untapped fanbase, but in doing so left everything out of the game that might have actually appealed to their target audience.

I bought this game as a lark, because I was in Wal-Mart with a bunch of my friends and felt like doing some abominably stupid to amuse them. Of course I secretly hoped the game would amuse me as well, at least for a little while, which I suppose it did. Mostly, though, it got me thinking whether a decent Survivor video game was something that could, you know, actually happen.

And I think I’ve hit on exactly the problem: Survivor DS tries to create a “Survivor-like” experience by giving you a neutral situation and a few tools to influence the other people on the island. Winning immunity is as easy as mastering a simply stylus game, and making people love you is as simple as noticing the clam icon over their head, then bringing them some clams. There’s no backstabbing, no strategy, no positioning, and no twists.

So of course I tried to imagine a game that incorporated all that stuff — and was unable to. Video games just don’t convey social interaction very well. Most games that try tend to have some invisible parameter attached to each NPC. Earning enough points will cause the NPC’s disposition towards you to change, and each of your actions has the ability to add or remove points. Sometimes, if a game wants to get really jiggy with it, earning points towards one NPC will cause you to lose them from another. Of course, most games with social systems just pool all your points into one giant “good/evil” meter and leave it at that.

In a hypothetically good Survivor game, each NPC would have to have multiple social meters in regards to your every action. And they’d need some mechanic to ignore those meters to make strategic decisions, if it’s advantageous for them to do so. It’d be a house of cards, and I’m not sure it could be done satisfyingly with today’s tech.

But think about it: that’s not how most games are built. Instead of trying to make a “Survivor sim” game, why not cook up a “Survivor story” game? Build a solid Survivor-ish scenario, populate it with well-written characters, and have the player navigate the game as a series of set events and scenarios. More like an RPG, really. You’d still have to allow for deviations from the main storyline, as the player’s actions have some influence on what happens, but writing an interesting branching plotline is easier than trying to cobble together a set of randomly-selected rules.

Crafting a more on-rails experience has a pretty severe drawback of course: no replay value. But brother, if you’re the type of person who could play Survivor DS multiple times, I don’t even know what to tell you. Still, it’s a thought, and it’s a way your Xbox could deliver a pretty decent Survivor experience without having to try and simulate an entire game. The caveat, of course, is that we’d need a team behind it who understands why Survivor is fun, so they don’t run out of ideas after “make the player gather coconuts”.

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5 comments to Survivor DS

  • Kadj

    I think it could work as an online game, but something would have to be done about time unless you can convince a bunch of people to log on at a specific time every day or week to do their backstabbing, scheming, and getting people booted.

    Actually… Nevermind, that would just be the endgame situation of every major MMO in existence. So Brick, we already HAVE your ultimate game! You just hate it is all. 🙂

  • BuTTer DicK

    Or you make it a multiplayer game for Xbox live!

  • Zooclaw

    Amusing and spot on.

    There’s plenty of potential for a good board game, though I don’t see CBS batting any eyes to real board game designers.

  • WIP

    I know I was pretty excited when you got it! It just reeked of fine craftsmanship.

  • Vega

    A few years ago I wondered what a Titanic game would be like. You’d play as Jack Dawson and do whatever you want on the ship. Every character would have their own AI and most of the gameplay would be talking to various characters, who would have voice recognition and speech synthesis. At the end of the game you’d be graded by things like money made on ship (gambling), promisory notes earned (deal with Cal and his posse, maybe have to wine and dine them first) survivor count (teach random folks how to use the lifeboats properly), women laid (if you don’t like Rose), people entertained (join the ship’s music/acting staff), etc. This would probably take far better AI programming and vastly more CPU and RAM than today’s consoles have, but boy, the possibilities!

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